Kenya’s parliament burns as protesters object to new taxes. Clashes spread and bodies are counted

Kenya's parliament burns as protesters object to new taxes. Clashes spread and bodies are counted

AP
Updated25 Jun 2024, 11:15 PM IST
Kenya's parliament burns as protesters object to new taxes. Clashes spread and bodies are counted
Kenya’s parliament burns as protesters object to new taxes. Clashes spread and bodies are counted

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Part of Kenya's parliament building was burned Tuesday as thousands of protesters against a new finance bill entered and legislators fled, in the most direct assault on the government in decades. Journalists saw at least three bodies outside the complex where police had opened fire, and medical workers reported five others killed. Clashes spread to other cities.

Kenya’s defense minister said the military had been deployed to support police during the “security emergency” and “breaching of critical infrastructure.”

Protesters had demanded that legislators vote against the bill imposing new taxes on a country, East Africa's economic hub, where frustrations over the high cost of living have simmered. Youth who had voted President William Ruto into power with cheers for his promises of economic relief have taken to the streets to object to the pain of reforms.

But lawmakers voted to pass the bill, then fled through a tunnel as protesters, many of them youth, outmaneuvered police to enter. The fire was later put out.

At least five people were shot dead while treating the wounded, the Kenya Medical Association and other groups said in a joint statement. It said more than 30 people were wounded, at least 13 with live bullets. One person shot dead was wrapped in a Kenyan flag and carried away. Another lay on the sidewalk, their head in the gutter.

As the sun set hours later, Kenya's government still had no comment. Internet service in the country noticeably slowed in what NetBlocks called a “major disruption.” Ruto was outside Nairobi attending an African Union retreat. He had been expected to sign the finance bill into law this week and has two weeks to act.

The office of the Nairobi governor, a member of the ruling party, was also briefly on fire, with smoke pouring from its white facade. The office is located near parliament. Police water cannons were used to extinguish the fire.

Protesters could be heard shouting, “We’re coming for every politician."

Police fired live ammunition and threw tear gas canisters at protesters who sought treatment at a medical tent at a church near parliament. Elsewhere, Kenyatta National Hospital said it received 45 “victims,” though it was not clear if any were dead.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission shared a video of officers shooting at protesters, and it urged Ruto to issue an immediate order to “stop the killings.”

On Sunday, Ruto tried to calm the rising public tensions over the finance bill, saying he was proud of the young Kenyans who came out to exercise their democratic duty. The politician who had promoted himself as a “hustler” from humble beginnings said he would engage them on their concerns.

Youth last week announced they were uniting to keep the government in check as prices for fuel, food and other necessities have soared. In Nairobi, a regional hub for expatriates and home to a major United Nations complex, the inequality among Kenyans has sharpened along with long-held frustrations over state corruption.

Opposition to the finance bill has united a large part of the country, with some explicitly rejecting the tribal divisions that have torn Kenya apart in the past. Some who had passionately supported Ruto felt betrayed.

“I fell for his lies. Now I’m out here regretting why I voted for him,” youth Oscar Saina told The Associated Press last week

As throngs of protesters rushed through the streets, defiance emerged elsewhere in the country Tuesday — including in the town where Ruto was, Naivasha, as protesters chanted “Ruto must go.”

Protesters tried to storm the State House in the western city of Nakuru, a witness said. There were clashes in the western lakeside city of Kisumu. The governor of Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city, joined protesters outside his office and expressed his support for them.

Protesters burned ruling party offices in Embu in central Kenya, the Nation newspaper reported. Citizen TV showed footage from Nyeri in central Kenya with police confronting protesters in the smoking streets.

One media outlet, broadcaster KTN, issued a statement saying that “we have received threats from the authorities to shut us down” as coverage continued.

A national gathering of Catholic bishops urged police not to attack protesters and pleaded with the government to listen to citizens' pain over the “unwarranted” taxes, saying “the country is bleeding ... families are immensely suffering.”

Two people died in similar protests last week, and civil society groups have raised the alarm about a crackdown.

The Kenya Law Society President Faith Odhiambo said earlier Tuesday that 50 Kenyans, including her personal assistant, had been “abducted” by people believed to be police officers. Some had been vocal in the demonstrations and were taken from homes, workplaces and public spaces ahead of Tuesday's protests, according to civil society groups.

A statement by diplomats from 13 Western countries including the United States said they were “shocked” by the scenes outside parliament and expressed concern about the violence and abductions of protesters.

Police officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Parliament Speaker Moses Wetangula had directed the inspector general of police to provide information on the whereabouts of those missing.

Also Tuesday, hundreds of Kenya’s police officers, long accused of abuses by human rights watchdogs and others, arrived in Haiti to lead a United Nations-backed multinational force against the powerful gangs who have the country in its grip. The deployment faces a legal challenge in Kenya but Ruto’s government has gone ahead, with the thanks of U.S. President Joe Biden.

___

AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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First Published:25 Jun 2024, 11:15 PM IST
HomeNewsKenya’s parliament burns as protesters object to new taxes. Clashes spread and bodies are counted

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